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Apostrophes or Apostrophe’s? Most important uses for the apostrophe.

Here is everything you need to know to make sure that you are punctuating correctly when it comes to the apostrophe.

Ever been told off for not using an apostrophe? Or perhaps using one when you don’t need to?

It’s an easy mistake to make, especially when people on social media or text messages don’t seem to use them at all sometimes.

If used improperly, they can completely change the meaning of a sentence.

Take these examples:
I wont eat the fish n chips cause it tastes bad.

James cat is more friendly than Andreas moose.

Shed like to come, but shes busy tonight.

Without the apostrophe, these words have a different meaning. The words “wont”, “cause”, “Andreas”, and “shed” are all words with their own meaning.

The examples above don’t have apostrophes and this makes meaning unclear. After you read through this article, you’ll be able to come back and fix the errors. Let’s get into it…

So what are apostrophes and how are they used?

There are two main reasons for using apostrophes. There are other reasons to use them, which we’ll get to later.

Using apostrophes also varies depending on certain style guides or common practice. This means that the way one organisation uses them might differ from others, and even the way they are used in different countries.

However, the two main reasons for their use remain the same across the all of the English speaking world.

These two reasons are:

1. Apostrophes are used for Contractions

This is also called “omission”.

It means that letters or sounds have been left out from the full word. Many words do this and speech is where words tend to be shortened. We then take these shortenings into our written work to mimic the spoken form.

For example:
Can’t = Can not or cannot

There are even a couple of strange ones like:
Won’t = will not
He’d’ve = He would have

Note: These contractions are not usually accepted in formal styles of writing, such a academic papers, government documents, formal public speeches, etc…

Contractions are really commonplace, but they can be tricky to work out why they have been used.

This can also be because the writer is trying to make dialogue read like it is spoken.

For example:
“Don’t make a fool out of me, ‘ey!”
“Ain’t never been there a’fore!”

What about this example from Jackie French’s novel, Tom Appleby: Convict Boy:
“We was ‘ere, see, up in England. We went down the coast of Africa and now we ‘ead to ‘ere, across the Atlantic Ocean.”

This is a way to mimic the way this cockney Englishman speaks. You’ll notice that it does take a while to get into the swing of reading this kind of dialogue.

The other main use of the apostrophe is for possession.

The sailors of the First Fleet used to clip their words – I’m ‘aving me lunch!

2. Apostrophes for possession.

This type of apostrophe helps us to distinguish between ownership. This can be when a person or object owns a thing or idea.

For example:
Jane’s table was full of magazines and stuff.
The dog’s tail wagged with joy.
The cat’s face looked grumpy due to a lack of punctuation.
The houses’ roofs were littered with leaves.

In this case, the apostrophe helps to distinguish between words which would be plurals if they didn’t have the appropriate punctuation.

Sometimes your noun will end in an ‘s’. In this case, you just put the apostrophe at the end of it.

For example:
Lucas’ legs are really long.
Thomas’ books were covered in slime.

3. Apostrophes for possession and plurals

Now, you almost never use an apostrophe to make a plural. Almost…but we’ll get to that later.

You do, however, use the apostrophe when your plural noun owns something. And this can be tricky to work out.

When you make a plural using an ‘s’, and you need to show possession, you need to put the apostrophe after the final ‘s’. You do not need to add another ‘s’ to show possession.

For example:
The horses’ hay was scattered over the field.
The windows’ glass was not very clear.
The mountains’ sides were covered in snow.

This is a very strange rule which pretty much only applies to this word!

4. Strange uses for the apostrophe

Sometimes we use apostrophes for other things besides possession and omission.

This can be because it can make the clarity of meaning much better. These can break the rules as stated above, and they can vary from place to place, or an organisations preferred style.

Here are some examples:

  • 1990’s, 2000’s – note that a plural is being made here. Some style guides simple omit the apostrophe (1990s, 2000s).
  • When naming a letter in a sentence – Apple has two p’s, Academic has two a’s. If the apostrophe were omited, then the sentence would be more difficult to decipher: Apple has two ps, Academic has two as.
  • Its and it’s – “it’s” is only used when there is a contraction (“it is” or “it has”). The “its” is used for possession. This is a very strange rule which pretty much only applies to this word!

You try…

So, can you insert apostrophes in these examples?

I wont eat the fish n chips cause it tastes bad.

James cat is more friendly than Andreas moose.

Shed like to come, but shes busy tonight.

Need to know more?

Watch this short video for great examples of how to use apostrophes…

Apostrophes explained…

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